Big Wednesday (John Milius / U.S., 1978):

Twain saw the art of it up close, "whizzing by like a bombshell," John Milius takes a more philosophical outlook as the New Hollywood wave begins to wane. The steps to the California beach might be a sacramental portal, the towheaded jocks stride the Peckinpah stride on the sand and there's the mythos of macho youth in all its blinkered glory. From 1962 to 1974, the surfing conscience split three ways. The hot-dog champ (Jan-Michael Vincent) goes to seed, is reborn as a family man, lives to see himself as an "old-timer" in a Bruce Brown-type documentary. The curly guppy (William Katt) turns lifeguard and goes to Vietnam, the power to grow a mustache is his reward. The sharky loon (Gary Busey) has his own private surrealism, he revels in a dilation of Penn's draft-dodging theater (Alice's Restaurant). "That's not a sport. That's a disease." Juvenile shenanigans and Zen comprehension are the benchmarks of growth, Milius instills it all with a gravity that would be risible if it weren't deeply felt. (A raucous kegger is illustrative of the style, it proceeds from splashing pranks to a tribal scuffle to a slow dance while Mom reads Joseph Heller upstairs.) A trip to Tijuana, the burger joint gone granola, the holy pouring of paraffin wax over boards, hot air for its sunburned kings. "Who knows where the wind comes from? Is it the breath of God?" The sweeping constant is the ocean, "a boss swell" several stories high is just the Conradian behemoth to bring the friends together back. (The riptide showdown calls for visceral grandeur and gets it, Greg MacGillivray's camera rides inside the wave as it clenches like a fist and the athlete plunges under a blitzkrieg of foam.) The end of summer is the end of an epoch, Milius eulogizes it for himself and fellow Movie Brats: "It's been one hell of a party." Cinematography by Bruce Surtees. With Patti D'Arbanville, Lee Purcell, Sam Melville, Gerry Lopez, Robert Englund, and Hank Worden.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home